My daughter sat on the floor in front of me last weekend as I braided her hair, watching The Chronicles of Narnia. She seemed fascinated with the main character, kept commenting on how perfect her skin was. She turned to me and asked if I could make her hair straight like the girl’s on the television, so she could be pretty. I exhaled deeply. This was a conversation I never hoped to have with my daughter. When I was a little girl, I remember feeling envious of Caucasian girls in my class at school. I wanted so badly to have long, silky hair and blue eyes. To me, that was the epitome of beauty. As far as I was concerned, my dulce de leche colored skin and poofy hair was second rate. There weren’t any shows on television with minority children outside of the Cosby show. And while Bill Cosby did an awesome job showing that African Americans were capable getting an education and earning a good living, it didn’t address the issue that concerns many minority girls. Rudy and Vanessa were never described as being gorgeous and while America didn’t consider them ugly, it never occurred to anyone that they were actually very pretty girls. Back in those days, brown skin wasn’t embraced as beautiful by the general public. Sadly, it was much less accepted as beautiful by African Americans than any other group of people.
I always hoped that my daughter would not grow up feeling inferior because of her darker complexion, but the same problems that plagued us 30 years ago are still present. And we can’t blame it all on television. I attribute it to what is commonly referred to as the “slave mentality”. During slavery, the “desirable” jobs inside the house were generally reserved for lighter skinned slaves. The darker skinned men and women were field hands. Light skinned slaves were considered to be worth more at times, and could be sold at a higher price than their darker counterparts. Though slavery ended many years ago, this categorization has been passed down unconsciously from generation to generation. In the year 2010, I cringe when I hear the term “good hair” used to describe straight locks. I tried so hard to make sure I never encouraged that way of thinking in my children, whose complexions range from sugar cookie to hot cocoa. I never wanted them to feel as though they were inferior to anyone, especially not based on physical features. But on this Saturday morning, I struggled to find the right words to console my daughter, who was clearly upset that she didn’t resemble little Lucy Pevensie. I told her that she was pretty as any other little girl, but that wasn’t a sufficient explanation for her. I thought of an article I read a long time ago, and it came to me. “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” I asked her. “Chocolate”, she told me without hesitation. “Well, lots of people like chocolate”, I told her. “Lots of people like vanilla, too. Even though they taste different, they are both delicious, right?” She nodded, still not sure of where I was going with all this ice cream talk. “Allah created people in different colors with different kinds of hair because he loves all of them .” She put her index finger on her chin for a moment, as though deep in thought about the matter. “Okay”, she said, turning her attention back to the television. I am sure that won’t be the last conversation I ever have with her about skin tone and hair texture, but I am willing to have all the conversations we need in order for her to accept herself as the beautiful girl she is.